This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – February 2011. Follow the link to receive this free monthly newsletter.
Brassaï recounted in his book "Conversation with Picasso" how D-H Kahnwweiler, the art dealer, described to him the peculiar way Picasso used linocuts:
« D-H Kahnwweiler: They are amazing, isn’t it? Picasso was an innovator in this field, as in many others ... Five years ago he started engraving into a linoleum block a portrait of Cranach’s wife. Then he got the idea - instead of running a block for each color – to carve again and again a single block. In seeking its own means of expression, he boldly innovates in each process and brings it to perfection. At first he merely used three or four colors and he now handles twelve colours prints using the same block! It's diabolical! He must anticipate the effect of each color, because here there is no coming back! I do not even know what to call this mental operation...»
"Portrait of the Painter Pablo Ruiz Picasso" sculpture by Francisco López Hernández in La Merced Square, Málaga, Spain [Source: Wikimedia]
As the art dealer pointed out, Picasso’s process is very complex. It shows that Picasso has a great capability to think visually, like a chess player thinking of the ten moves ahead based on his next move.
This unique technique also means that these linocuts were, by definition, limited editions. At the end of the process, the linocut plaque was reduced to the last marks on the paper.
Saper Galleries has a very good article on the different printing techniques that Picasso used: Printmaking Media Used by Picasso.
Working out tones with linocuts
Picasso Linocut Art technique